Preview: Jets (5-7) @ Jaguars (2-10)

This week the Jets travel to Tim Tebow’s hometown to play the Jaguars, unfortunately for the legion of Tebow supporters who undoubtedly wanted to line up to watch him play quarterback, equally unfortunate for many Jet fans that Greg McElroy won’t be getting the start either, as you know, since it’s all that anyone has talked about the entire week, Mark Sanchez will remain the starting quarterback.

There’s plenty of merit to all arguments at this stage, while Sanchez has looked lost, confused and broken, he is still the most physically talented of the three. Of course even if the Jets were to win out and finish 9-7 they’re still not likely to make the playoffs, so there’s definite validity to seeing what you have with McElroy. But the points and counterpoints are all moot, media and fans don’t make the decision and the decision is Sanchez, all we can do is wait to see how it unfolds.

Mark Sanchez gets another shot to prove he belongs the starting quarterback and he couldn't ask for a better matchup up to prove his point. (Jetsinsider.com Photo)

WHEN: Sunday, December 9, 2012 ! 1 pm EST (TV-CBS, Radio-ESPN)

WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL

INJURY REPORT:

JETS – Out: WR Clyde Gates (concussion). Doubtful: TE Dustin Keller (ankle), DL Damon Harrison (ankle). Questionable: DL Sione Pou’ha, QB Time Tebow (ribs), WR Stephen Hill (knee). Probable: DL Kenrick Ellis (knee/low back), RB Bilal Powell (shoulder), QB Mark Sanchez (low back), OL Matt Slauson (knee), TE Jeff Cumberland (wrist), LB Calvin Pace (shoulder), OL Nick Mangold (shoulder), WR Jeremy Kerley (heel/hamstring), LB Bart Scott (toe), DB Aaron Berry (quad), LB Ricky Sapp (ankle), Mike DeVito (shin), FB Lex Hilliard (finger), WR CHaz Schilens (knee), OL Brandon Moore (hip), DB LaRon Landry (heel), RB Joe McKnight (ankle/ribs).

JAGUARS – Out: C/G Mike Brewster (hand), RB Rashad Jennings (concussion), RB Maurice Jones-Drew (foot), CB Aaron Ross (calf), DE George Selvie (concussion), WR Cecil Shorts (concussion). Probable: DT Tyson Alualu (calf), CB Derek Cox (hamstring), FB Greg Jones (thigh), DE Austen Lane (foot), S Dwight Lowery (foot), CB Rashean Mathis (groin), C Brad Meester (foot).

GAME KEYS:

Ground-and-Pound - The Jaguars have the 31st ranked rushing defense, allowing 144 yards per game at 4.3 yards a carry. After a slow and frustrating start to the season the Jets rushing game has finally started to show signs of life thanks to improved blocking from the offensive line, last week the Jets were able to rack up 177 rushing yards to beat the Cardinals, this week they’ll need to come close to matching that number to win. If the Jets can rush for over 150 yards they should be able to win regardless of who ends the game as the Jets quarterback.

The Jaguars meanwhile have the worst rushing attack in football, even worse than the Cardinals who only managed 81 rushing yards last week with 40 of them coming on a fake punt, only gaining 945 yards on the season for a dismal 78.8 yards a game on 3.5 yards a carry. Most of this is due to the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew but he will once again be absent this week as will backup Rashad Jennings leaving Jalen Parmele as their lead back. It’s hard to see anyway the Jaguars can beat the Jets by running the ball, they’ll need to beat them through the air and hope Sanchez continues his trend of game-changing turnovers.

In recent weeks the Jaguars have found plenty of success slinging the ball through the air, especially since Chad Henne has taken over, but the Jets do rank as the fourth best pass defense even in spite of their lack of a pass rush (Jaguars pass rush is even worse only claiming 13 sacks on the season) and without Cecil Shorts, the Jaguars leading receiver, they have even less firepower than usual. That leaves rookie Justin Blackmon as the biggest receiving threat and he has been coming on strong in recent weeks. Antonio Cromartie will draw coverage on Blackmon for most of the game, if the Jaguars run Blackmon on a lot of slants and in routes they could find success in this matchup, but if they just test Cromartie downfield they’ll lose that battle far more than not.

Win Turnover Battle - Jacksonville defense has caused 18 takeaways (10 picks and eight fumbles) and also has exactly 18 giveaways (nine picks and nine fumbles), the Jets defense has caused 20 takeaways (nine picks and 11 fumbles), but the offense has 26 giveaways (13 picks and 13 fumbles). The only way the Jets lose this game is if they lose the turnover battle, Sanchez will start but if he’s going to finish the game he has to protect the ball. Winning the turnover battle is obviously important every week, but this week especially it’s important to Sanchez, the only way he keeps his job is by avoiding the inexcusable turnovers he has become known for. It’s not just the fact that he commits so many turnovers it’s the when, where and the how that gets him. But now he can’t even afford the luxury of turnovers that aren’t his fault (tipped passes that should be caught), at this point any turnover could be enough to doom Sanchez as the Jets starter.

Pride - Sanchez is playing to keep his job as the starting quarterback, Shonn Greene would like to reclaim his role as the starting/main running back, the young rookies still trying to earn more playing time want to put more quality tape out there for coaches to see and many veterans are playing for their next contract or not have their current contracts ripped up in the off-season, but with the playoffs extremely unlikely even if they were to win out, the Jets are mostly playing for their pride. They didn’t expect to be 5-7, they know the playoffs are a long shot (to catch the Colts they’d need to lose three of the next four, same with the Steelers since they have the tiebreaker over the Jets and it’s likely the same with the Bengals, though two losses by the Bengals could be enough depending on the tiebreakers), but they say they want to prove they are better than they have shown, if that’s true and if they show up with any type of pride they should easily dispose of the Jaguars.

X-FACTORS:

Sanchez/McElroy/Tebow - Sanchez will get the start, if he struggles and commits turnovers Ryan won’t be as hesitant to pull him like he has in the past and his leash will probably shorter than it was last week. Tebow is listed as questionable for the game and if he is active you can expect to see him involved in the offensive game plan to some degree, the question is to what degree and can it be successful? If there’s a game to install a package of plays for Tebow, this would be it. Sure it makes for a nice storyline as Tebow returns home, and we know how much these Jets love those cute story lines, but it’s all about the matchup. A good time to break out the Tebow-Option would certainly be against the second worst rushing defense in the league.

If Sanchez does struggle and gets pulled, it’d most likely be for McElroy as the traditional quarterback as it seems unlikely Ryan feels Tebow is 100 percent healthy. While Ryan would consider playing Tebow on offense even if not 100 percent healthy it’s doubtful he’d want him taking every snap at quarterback and that’s also assuming Ryan has any interest in ever playing Tebow every snap at quarterback even if he’s 100 percent healthy.

Sibling Rivalry - When a 2-10 team hosts a 5-7 team there’s not going to be a lot of interesting sidebars to obsess over, but listening to LaRon Landry talk about his excitement to play against his brothers team is enough pique anyone’s interest. LaRon’s brother Dawan Landry plays for the Jaguars and also played for Ryan in Baltimore, LaRon said they’ve been talking and exchanging trash-talk texts all week. The trash-talking doesn’t involve the teams or any other players, it’s just between the two of them about who is going to have the bigger game. As fun as it is to watch LaRon deliver his bone rattling hits, it’s always as much fun to listen to him talk. Yesterday he told the story of how, at four years old, he obtained a fake ID (the original Danny Almonte it seems) so he could play football in the five-seven year old league. It worked, he told us, and he played middle linebacker. But as good as that story was, it was even more fun to listen to him talk about his excitement for this sibling rivalry.

THE PICK: The only way the Jets lose this game is with backbreaking turnovers (repeating this because it’s truly the biggest key to the game), having watched Sanchez this year it would seem logical that Dwight Lowery would find himself on the receiving end of a couple picks and maybe a sack/fumble, that’s just the way it’s gone for Sanchez and the Jets recently.

Yet, it would also be so the Jets to go down to Jacksonville and look like they did against the Colts and Bills earlier in the season. Turn in an impressive performance and earn an easy victory against one of the worst teams in the league so no one has any idea of what to make of it and ultimately it will be written off. We’ve seen this movie before, Jets steamroll the Jaguars, probably do the same to the Titans and Chargers and then they’ll close out the season by getting embarrassed by the Bills (side prediction: Sanchez finishes the game around 14-22 for 202 yards two touchdowns and one pick aided by over 150 yards on the ground).

Jets 27-13

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